It’s finally over. The Bears’ extended training camp and preseason, which started when quarterbacks and rookies reported to Olivet Nazarene University on July 19, will end Thursday night with their fifth and final exhibition game. Here’s what we’ll be watching when the Bears play the Bills at Soldier Field:
Remember last year?
Last year’s final preseason game against the Browns was billed as possibly the last opportunity to see rookie quarterback Mitch Trubisky before Mike Glennon took over ‘‘his year” as the Bears’ starter. Instead, everyone witnessed John Fox’s horror show at Soldier Field.
The travesty began with Trubisky handing off nine consecutive times in three three-and-outs. He completed 2 of 4 passes for 10 yards before being replaced by Connor Shaw in the second quarter.
But the worst was yet to come.
Shaw was shaken up on a scramble late in the fourth quarter. At that point, Trubisky was reinserted with 2:23 left. After two more handoffs by Trubisky, Shaw returned, but he was injured again after back-to-back scrambles.
So Trubisky re-entered the game. This time, he came back with 1:04 left and the ball on the Browns’ 20. With the Browns leading by 25, it was time to pass.
The Browns blitzed on the next play and shoved Trubisky to the ground, even though he completed a screen pass to running back Josh Rounds.
On fourth-and-goal from the Browns’ 4, Trubisky was sacked by linebacker B.J. Bello and defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi. That play ended the Bears’ 25-0 loss.
As always, Fox was defiant and didn’t explain his reasoning for risking Trubisky’s health in that situation. There later was a minor controversy over who called which plays for Trubisky at the end.
“I think it’s going to be fair to say it [wasn’t] the first time he’s been hit, and it won’t be the last,” Fox said after the game.
Now that you’ve relived that nightmare, don’t expect it to happen again this year. First of all, Trubisky isn’t playing, but coach Matt Nagy also has a plan in place for his reserves. He already executed his plan to protect his most valuable players last week.
Backup quarterback Chase Daniel was informed last Friday morning that he was starting Saturday against the Chiefs. Nagy, though, still had scripted plays ready for him and the second-team offense.
Tyler Bray Day
Third-string quarterback Tyler Bray will play every snap if he stays healthy. Similar to Daniel, Bray was signed to help Trubisky learn Nagy’s offense, having played for him over four seasons with the Chiefs.
But Bray’s experience also means that the Bears’ offense will be able to function against the Bills. There won’t be nine consecutive handoffs.
Bray has completed 41 of 68 passes this preseason for 472 yards. He has thrown a touchdown pass and an interception.
“He knows the ins and outs,” Trubisky said. “He can help with the young guys and [lining] up. He’s got total command in the huddle.”
Daniel will handle the mentor/teacher role this season, but Trubisky said that Bray has been “awesome” to be around, too.
“It’s not easy to be a No. 3 because you’re not always getting the reps in practice and sometimes you get more mental reps; you’re watching other guys’ film,” Trubisky said. “But he’s an absolute pro. And I think we have one of the best quarterback rooms across the league. [It’s] the way we help each other, the way we compete, the way we push each other. The way Tyler and Chase carry themselves every day, it just really motivates me.”
In and out
Much of the focus will be on who doesn’t play. For the most part, the Bears’ sideline will provide a revealing look at who made the team, though there always are a few exceptions.
As always, some rookies will play. Some extra work should benefit outside linebacker Kylie Fitts, inside linebacker Joel Iyiegbuniwe and defensive lineman Bilal Nichols, who are vying for certain roles.
Wide receiver Javon Wims, though, has earned a break. He has been one of the Bears’ best players this preseason. He has a team-best 15 catches for 144 yards and a touchdown. He doesn’t have much left to prove.
The organization would like to stash away several Bears who’ll play against Buffalo on the practice squad.
Wide receiver Tanner Gentry, running back Ryan Nall, guard Jordan Morgan and cornerbacks Michael Joseph and Kevin Toliver are viewed as practice-squad candidates.
One last practice
Nagy arguably has benefitted the most from the Bears’ prolonged preseason. This will be his fifth game in charge of the entire game-day operation.
It’s another opportunity to call plays and solve issues during the game by communicating with his coordinators and assistants. It’s another full game to challenge plays and discuss matters with officials. And it’s another live test of his time management.
All of the above has been an overlooked process for the first-year head coach. But all of it is crucial to the Bears’ success. There will be tests ahead for Nagy in the regular season, but he has taken advantage of his extended work in the preseason.